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Smart ways to buy local fruits, vegetables

by Karen Kemper
Dietetic Intern
It’s likely that the food in your grocery cart may have traveled more in the past year to reach your plate than you have for vacation. Produce in our supermarkets travels an estimated 1,500 miles before being consumed. One study conducted by The Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture examined the distance traveled by 16 everyday produce items coming from conventional sources, compared to local sources. The distance from place of production to place of sale for  the items was 25,301 miles when coming from conventional sources, and only 716 miles when coming from local sources. Buying local allows you to support your community and gives you the security of knowing where your food was grown.
Since the first day of spring was March 20, now is the time for the Charleston area farmer’s markets to sell the summer foods the Lowcountry has to offer.

Tips to help you buy local this summer
  • Start with familiar foods. Since the selection of items may vary, go in with a general idea of what you need and look for foods you are familiar with cooking. For example, buy the ingredients for a salad, some fresh vegetables for side dishes, or fruit to pack with lunch. Also, try to have an idea of how much food you will use in a week to avoid buying excess that will spoil before you use it. As you become comfortable, branch out and try a few unfamiliar products. You might discover a new favorite. 
  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions. If you see a fruit or vegetable you can’t identify or do not know how to prepare, ask the vendor. They often can give you recipes. Also, don’t be afraid to ask how they grow their crops. Some people think local is synonymous with organic, which is not the case. This is not necessarily good or bad, but by asking you will likely learn something new and become even more familiar with where your food came from.
  • Time your trip right. Find out when all the local markets are open, and see which one fits best with your schedule. To ensure the best selection and avoid the crowd during peak times like the weekend, arrive early. On the other hand, by going at the end of the day, you may be able to negotiate with the vendors and go home with a bargain.
  • Carry cash and bring your own reusable bags.

Local farmer’s markets
  • MUSC Farmer’s Market: open year-round every Friday in the Horseshoe, 7 a.m. until 3:30 p.m. or until it slows down. Look for more farmers to return this spring on Fridays at the Horseshoe, Charleston Memorial (in the grassy area in back, next to the parking garage and Ashley River Tower), and at Harborview Office Tower.
  • Marion Square Farmer’s Market: opens from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., Saturdays beginning April 3
  • North Charleston Farmer’s Market at Park Circle’s Felix C. Davis Community Center: from 1 to 7 p.m. Thursdays and opens mid-April
  • Mount Pleasant Farmers Market Pavilion on Coleman Boulevard (Moultrie Middle School grounds): from 3 p.m. to dark, Tuesdays beginning April 13.

Friday, March 26, 2010

The Catalyst Online is published weekly by the MUSC Office of Public Relations for the faculty, employees and students of the Medical University of South Carolina. The Catalyst Online editor, Kim Draughn, can be reached at 792-4107 or by email, Editorial copy can be submitted to The Catalyst Online and to The Catalyst in print by fax, 792-6723, or by email to To place an ad in The Catalyst hardcopy, call Island Publications at 849-1778, ext. 201.